Social situations can be very overwhelming for autistic teens. Not just because they lack the social skills to meaningfully engage, but because crowds and closeness to others can trigger sensory overload. While they may struggle to express how they are feeling, they are often hyperaware of how they respond in social situations and feel helpless when they struggle to connect. Sometimes, pushing autistic teens can socialize can lead to increased anxiety and difficulty communicating with others rather than more social support. 

What are Realistic Social Expectations?

Society often makes it seem that people need to have many friends, attend social activities often, socialize by initiating and maintaining conversation often, and so on. It is natural to want to help your teen make friends and spend less time isolated, even if they are comfortable with having fewer relationships and spending time alone to decompress. However, this can send the message that the way they feel comfortable interacting with others is wrong and that they are incapable of maintaining healthy friendships. Instead of deciding to reach out to others, they may feel more isolated and push people away.
When helping autistic teens develop social skills, professionals often judge “progress” in terms of neurotypical standards rather than considering personal values and comfort levels. Some people, with or without ASD, who naturally have an introverted temperament, may not benefit from being pushed or encouraged to make and maintain more friends or to engage in socialization more often.

Universal Social Standards Are Not Always Realistic As:

  • It’s not always realistic to be friends with everyone. It is common to teach teens on the spectrum that there are universal social skills they should learn, but everyone approaches social interactions differently. It is not realistic to expect approval from everyone, as people have different interests, values, and goals. Difficulty maintaining conversations is not always a reflection of one’s social skills.
  • Social skills vary depending on the situation. Autistic teens tend to take things literally and follow rules rigidly. Social-emotional fluency comes from the ability to adapt social skills in different settings. Social rules followed with authority figures differ from social norms among peer groups.
  • They may just be introverted. People who are introverted prefer being surrounded by less stimulation, such as having fewer people around. Although introverts may be capable of attending social gatherings and engaging in a social situation, they eventually desire to go back home, have some peace and quiet, and relax. They often listen more than they talk and spend more time reflecting on their experiences by writing things down than sharing their thoughts with others.

Ways to accommodate socialization in introverts:

  • Don’t judge the way they prefer to interact with others. Everyone socializes differently. Introverts have different needs than extroverts–and that’s okay! Social comparisons can lead to lower self-esteem and trouble accepting that their needs are valid.
  • Allow them more time to respond. Introverts tend to be better active listeners, which means they may need more time to plan a response. They may struggle with making spontaneous decisions or may need more time to process information before being able to give an informed response.
  • Encourage written responses instead of verbal responses in some situations. Sometimes texting is easier than picking up the phone. Encouraging them to journal about their feelings can help them express how they feel without the pressure of sharing it with others.
  • Recommend the use of technology and social media to connect with others. They may feel more comfortable socializing over the phone than in person. Social media can be a powerful tool in helping them stay connected to others without the pressure of in-person interactions.

When encouraging autistic teens to socialize more, it is important to consider things like whether their social skills are impairing their quality of life, their satisfaction, or their personal goals and whether improving their social skills would help them to achieve any goals they may have as well as what fits with their values. 

Seven Stars Can Help 

Seven Stars RTC is a residential treatment center for teens ages 13-17 struggling with Autism-related issues. The program provides acute care stabilization, residential treatment, academic programs, adventure-based therapy, skill building, and positive psychology. These various programs and therapies help students to improve their confidence, self-awareness, and personal management. Seven Stars provides students with individualized access to the resources they need to transition to the real-world practicing healthier habits and self-control. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 844-601-1167 for more information about social skills for autistic teens.  We can help your family today!

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